Blues Is My Business

I guess the title of the post, which I creatively borrowed from an Etta James song, pretty much gives it away. I’ve been into the blues and blues rock on and off for close to 40 years. My relatively short-lived period as a hobby bassist many moons ago started in a blues band.

After primarily focusing on other genres, I’ve turned more of my attention back to the blues over the past few years. While the old blues guard, i.e., the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, is largely gone, encouragingly, a good number of relatively young artists including a significant amount of females are keeping the blues alive and putting their own stamp on it.

The idea for this post, which celebrates blues and blues rock from young and old artists, was triggered the other day when I came across Worried Life Blues, as covered by B.B. King and Eric Clapton on their great collaboration album Riding with the King from June 2000. Most of the music I feature here is in a Spotify playlist at the end of the post. I’m highlighting six of the tunes in the upfront.

B.B. King and Eric Clapton/Worried Life Blues

Starting with the song that inspired this post felt appropriate. Worried Life Blues was written by American blues pianist Major Merriweather, better known as Big Maceo Merriweather, and county blues artist Samuel John “Lightnin’”  Hopkins, who was known as Lightnin’ Hopkins. It was first recorded and released by Merriwater in 1941. The tune was based on Someday Baby Blues, a Sleepy John Estes song from 1935. Worried Life Blues became one of the most recorded blues standards of all time.

The Boneshakers/Let’s Straighten It Out

My longtime music friend from Germany recently brought this excellent tune to my attention. The Boneshakers were formed in the early 1990s by Was (Not Was) guitarist Randy Jacobs and Hillard “Sweet Pea” Atkinson, one of the group’s vocalists after Was (Not Was) had gone on hiatus. Let’s Straighten It Out is from The Boneshakers’ debut album Book of Spells, which appeared in January 1997. The tune was penned by blues vocalist Benny Latimore, who recorded it for his 1974 album More More More. The original is great, but this rendition is killer!

Shemekia Copeland/Salt In My Wounds

Shemekia Copeland, the daughter of Texas blues guitarist and vocalist Johnny Copeland, is an incredible blues vocalist who has released 10 albums to date. Salt In My Wounds is from her April 1998 debut Turn the Heat Up! The track was penned by blues guitarists Joe Louis Walker and Alan Mirikitani. Copeland’s delivery is riveting.

Jontavious Willis/Take Me to the Country

Next up is Jontavious Willis, a young country blues guitarist from Greenville, Ga. Taj Mahal, one of his mentors, has called him “wunderkind”. I saw Willis open up for him and Keb’ Mo’ in August 2017 and was very impressed. Mahal also executive-produced Willis’ sophomore album Spectacular Class, which appeared in April 2019. I previously reviewed it here. Following is a tune from that album, Take Me to the Country. Check this out. Not only is the guitar-playing outstanding, but the singing is great as well!

Danielle Nicole/Save Me

Danielle Nicole (nĂ© Danielle Nicole Schnebelen) is a blues and soul musician from Kansas City, Mo. Prior to releasing her solo debut Wolf Den in 2015, Nicole co-founded Kansas City soul and blues rock band Trampled Under Foot in 2000 and was their lead vocalist and bassist. The band recorded five albums before it dissolved in 2015. Save Me, co-written by Schnebelen and drummer and producer Tony Braunagel, is a tune from Nicole’s third and most recent studio album Cry No More. It features Kenny Wayne Shepherd on guitar.

Little Steven/Blues Is My Business

It may seem a bit odd to highlight Little Steven’s version of the above-noted tune that was first recorded by Etta James as The Blues Is My Business for her 26th studio Let’s Roll. James’ version is great. Little Steven (Steven Van Zandt) takes the song, which was co-written by Kevin Bowe and Todd Cherney, to the next level with a soulful rendition that reminds me of Joe Cocker. He included it on his excellent studio album Soulfire from May 2017.

Here’s the above-mentioned playlist with plenty of additional music. Hope you find something you like.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Advertisement

A Southern Peach Turns 50 And Remains As Tasty As Ever

“Generally, conditioned peaches will last for 3-4 days on the counter, slightly longer in the fridge, and they can be frozen for an extended time,” according to The Peach Truck. Yep, that’s a thing, and it came up when I typed, ‘what is the average shelf life of a Georgia peach?’ into my search engine. Of course, the peach I’m talking about here isn’t edible, though it certainly remains just as sweet as a fully ripe peach as it was when it first appeared today 50 years ago.

Eat a Peach, a double LP part-studio, part-live album, was the fourth record by The Allman Brothers Band, released on February 12, 1972. It came on the heels of At Fillmore East, the group’s commercial breakthrough, and perhaps the best live album ever recorded, at least when it comes to southern rock and blues rock. But while the Fillmore album had turned the Allmans into a commercially viable act, the group faced enormous challenges.

By the time they started work on the new album at Criteria Studios in Miami, much of the band was in the throes of heroin addiction. Their newly found wealth from the commercial success of Fillmore probably was a double-edged sword. In October 1971, band leader Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley, along with two of the group’s roadies, checked themselves into a drug rehab clinic in Buffalo, N.Y.

If I interpret the background I read correctly, following the above drug rehab, the Allmans went on a short tour. The day after Duane Allman had returned to Macon, Ga., he was killed in a motorcycle accident at age 24. “We thought about quitting because how could we go on without Duane?” said drummer Butch Trucks, according to Wikipedia citing a 2014 Allmans bio by Alan Paul. “But then we realized: how could we stop?”

In the wake of Duane’s death lead guitarist Dickey Betts essentially stepped into his shoes and took over the group’s leadership. In December 1971, the Allmans returned to Miami’s Criteria Studios to finish the album. Like At Fillmore East, Eat a Peach was produced by music genius Tom Dowd who had also served in that capacity for part of their sophomore album Idlewild South.

Among Dowd’s many prior accomplishments was the production of rock gem Layla that had brought together Eric Clapton and Duane Allman for one of the most memorable collaborations in rock. You can read more about Dowd and an amazing documentary titled Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music here.

Eat a Peach gatefold: The elaborate mural was drawn by W. David Powell and J. F. Holmes

BTW, the record’s title came from a quote by Duane who had said, “You can’t help the revolution, because there’s just evolution … Every time I’m in Georgia I eat a peach for peace.” I’d say the time is ripe for some music.

Let’s start with Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, which opens Side one. The tune was written by Gregg Allman shortly after the death of his brother Duane and was Gregg’s attempt to come to terms with the tragic event. The song also became the album’s lead single in April 1972, backed by Melissa. Betts does a great job on slide guitar. He had big shoes to fill!

Closing out Side one is Melissa, another tune penned by Gregg Allman. In fact, he wrote it in 1967 prior to the formation of the Allmans. “By that time I got so sick of playing other people’s material that I just sat down and said, ‘OK, here we go,” Allman said during a 2006 interview, as captured by Songfacts. “And about 200 songs later – much garbage to take out – I wrote this song called ‘Melissa.’ And I had everything but the title.” The title would come to Gregg one night in a grocery store when he watched a Spanish woman telling her active little girl, Melissa, to stop running away. Melissa was a favorite of Duane’s. It also became the A-side of the record’s second single in August 1972.

I’m skipping all of Side two, which is the first part of Mountain Jam, a track that more appropriately should have been titled marathon jam. I realize this may not exactly endear me to die-hard fans of the Allmans or Grateful Dead, for that matter. While I recognize Mountain Jam features great musicianship, which among others includes an amazing bass solo by Berry Oakley I have to acknowledge as a retired hobby bassist, 19:37 minutes followed by 15:06 minutes on Side four simply is too much of a jam for me.

Instead, I’d like to highlight Trouble No More, the second track on Side three. Like Mountain Jam, it was leftover material from the group’s 1971 Fillmore East performances. Credited to Muddy Waters, he first recorded the upbeat blues in 1955. Wikipedia notes it’s a variation on Someday Baby Blues, a tune Sleepy John Estes had recorded in 1935.

Next up is Blue Sky, written by Dickey Betts about his then-native Canadian girlfriend, Sandy “Bluesky” Wabegijig. Notably, this was the first Allmans song that featured Betts on lead vocals. He also sang lead on Ramblin’ Man, the group’s biggest hit from 1973, a no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Blue Sky also was Duane Allman’s final recording with the band. The country-flavored tune features beautiful harmony guitar action and alternating solos by Allman and Betts.

The last song I’d like to call out is the final track of Side three: Little Martha. The lovely acoustic instrumental is the only tune on the record solely credited to Duane Allman (Duane received a co-credit for the aforementioned Mountain Jam). Songfacts notes, Duane wrote it for Dixie Lee Meadows, a girl with whom he was having an affair. “Little Martha” was a nickname Duane called her. According to Scott Freeman’s Midnight Riders: The Story of The Allman Brothers Band, Duane Allman claimed this came to him in a dream in which Jimi Hendrix showed him how to play the song using a sink faucet in a hotel room. Duane woke up and started playing it.

Eat a Peach was both a chart and a commercial success for The Allman Brothers Band. It reached no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, becoming their second-highest charting record. Successor Brothers and Sisters, which featured Ramblin’ Man, made it all the way to no. 1. Eat a Peach also did well in Canada where it reached no. 12. In Australia, the album peaked at no. 35.

In December 1995, Eat a Peach reached Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Together with At Fillmore East and Brothers and Sisters, this makes it one of the group’s three albums with certified sales of at least one million units.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Peach Truck; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify